Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.


© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.


Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

France: Migrant Kids Left to Sleep in the Street

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took just under 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”


Video: Kids at Work, Out of School in Afghanistan

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rainbow flags symbolizing LGBT rights.

© 2017 Reuters

Debate is growing in the UK over schools teaching children about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identities and relationships.

When a Birmingham school started the “No Outsiders” program, lessons aimed at teaching kids about inclusion, including about ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, it sparked weekly protests by some parents, and hundreds of children were pulled from classes.

Despite the body responsible for monitoring education approving the classes as age-appropriate, a trust that manages a group of schools in Birmingham announced this week it would temporarily suspend the program.

As schools cave to pressure from some parents, Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons, made things exponentially worse on Wednesday.

Leadsom argued in a radio interview that parents should have control over when their child is “exposed to that information.” The implication that such information is harmful could not be more wrong.

It is important for children to be taught age-appropriate lessons about LGBT people and that being different is not bad.

Human Rights Watch has seen the effects in other countries of banning positive discussions about homosexuality and other “non-traditional” relationships. These policies contribute to bullying and violence, and can leave already vulnerable children feeling like their existence is a mistake.

In Russia, a ban on “gay propaganda” in schools has led to devastating consequences for LGBT children’s mental health. Their grades suffered, their relationships with parents and teachers degraded, and some dropped out of school. Anti-LGBT violence also increased in the wake of the bill’s passage.

“No promo homo” laws – legislation in some US states against promoting homosexuality –effectively give license to discriminate against LGBT kids in school, where all children should feel safe.

In Japan, the government failed to include LGBT issues in the national curriculum despite nearly 75 percent of teachers indicating they wanted the topics to be included.

Some have sought to defend the decision to suspend the teaching because the objections of some parents are linked to religious faith. But people’s beliefs – no matter how firmly held cannot be used to override the rights of LGBT children to go to school without having to face fear and anguish just for being who they are. What message does it send those children when schools erase their identity from the curriculum?

As hard as it is, schools should stand firm against these protests and support a curriculum inclusive of all children.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Myanmar: Women, Girls Trafficked as ‘Brides’ to China

The Myanmar and Chinese governments have failed to stem the trafficking of ethnic Kachin women and girls as “brides” to families in China. 

(Yangon) – The Myanmar and Chinese governments have failed to stem the trafficking of ethnic Kachin women and girls as “brides” to families in China, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 112-page report, “‘Give Us a Baby and We’ll Let You Go’: Trafficking of Kachin ‘Brides’ from Myanmar to China,” documents the selling by traffickers of women and girls from Kachin and northern Shan States into sexual slavery in China. Trafficking survivors said that trusted people, including family members, promised them jobs in China, but instead sold them for the equivalent of US$3,000 to $13,000 to Chinese families. In China, they were typically locked in a room and raped so they would become pregnant.
“Myanmar and Chinese authorities are looking away while unscrupulous traffickers are selling Kachin women and girls into captivity and unspeakable abuse,” said Heather Barr, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The dearth of livelihoods and basic rights protections have made these women easy prey for traffickers, who have little reason to fear law enforcement on either side of the border.”
The report is based primarily on interviews with 37 trafficking survivors, as well as with 3 families of victims, Myanmar government officials and police, and members of local groups, among others.
A Kachin woman who had been trafficked at 16 by her sister-in-law said:

“The family took me to a room. In that room I was tied up again. … They locked the door – for one or two months. When it was time for meals, they sent meals in. I was crying…Each time when the Chinese man brought me meals, he raped me.”

Survivors said the Chinese families often seemed more interested in having a baby than a “bride.” Once trafficked women and girls gave birth to a baby, they were sometimes able to escape their captors, but usually at the cost of leaving their child behind with little hope of seeing the child again. Back in Myanmar, survivors grapple with trauma and stigma as they try to rebuild their lives. There are very few services for trafficking survivors, and the few organizations that provide desperately needed assistance cannot meet the survivors’ needs.

Many of the trafficking survivors interviewed were among over 100,000 people internally displaced by fighting in Kachin and northern Shan States who face desperate lives in camps. The Myanmar government has largely blocked humanitarian aid to the camps, some of which are under the control of the opposition Kachin Independence Organization. Women are often the sole breadwinners, with men taking part in the conflict. This makes women and girls vulnerable to traffickers, who sell them to Chinese families struggling to find brides for their sons due to the gender imbalance in China related to the country’s earlier “one child policy.”

The percentage of women in China’s population has fallen steadily since 1987, and the gender gap among men and women ages 15 to 29 is increasing. Researchers estimate that China has 30 to 40 million “missing women,” who should be alive today but are not due to preference for boys exacerbated by the “one-child policy” in place from 1979 to 2015 and China’s continuing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.

Some families cope with the lack of marriageable women by buying trafficked women or girls. It is difficult to estimate the total number of women and girls being trafficked as brides to China, but the Myanmar government reported 226 cases in 2017. Experts on the issue told Human Rights Watch they believe the real number is most likely much higher.

Law enforcement officers in China and Myanmar, including officials of the Kachin Independence Organization, have made little effort to recover trafficked women and girls, Human Rights Watch found. Families seeking police help were turned away repeatedly, often told that they would have to pay before police would act. Women and girls who escaped and went to the Chinese police were sometimes jailed for immigration violations rather than being treated as crime victims.

“The Myanmar and Chinese governments, as well as the Kachin Independence Organization, should be doing much more to prevent trafficking, recover and assist victims, and prosecute traffickers,” Barr said. “Donors and international organizations should support the local groups that are doing the hard work that governments won’t to rescue trafficked women and girls and help them recover.”

Selected Quotes

Armed Conflict and Trafficking in Myanmar

“Suddenly, in 2011, fighting broke out. We had to run away and escape for our lives. In the past we just left for a short time…We thought once the Myanmar army stopped firing we could go back. But we never could go back – and slowly we had to move to the border area, because the Myanmar army targeted the civilian population. …Then Chinese traffickers started coming here to persuade the civilians. … [Young women] thought they would take any risk if it would help their family, help their younger siblings.” – A Kachin Women’s Association worker, herself a displaced person. Interviewed by phone, January 2018.

Lure of Work in China

“I was the breadwinner of my family – I took care of my mother and I had to look after her. So, to live in the IDP camp – the place is too small, and everything is difficult. So, one of my friends told me: “In China there are jobs and good salaries. Every month you can get 4,000 to 5,000 yuan [US$640 to $800].” – Woman trafficked in 2013 at 27. Myitkyina, April 2017.

Targeting by Traffickers

“The broker was my auntie. She persuaded me.” – Survivor trafficked at 17 or 18. Myitkyina, December 2017.

“The Myanmar broker gives them to the China broker. The China broker provides a place to stay and food and shows them to a Chinese man and he looks and pays depending on how pretty [she is]. [They pay] 100,000 yuan [$15,900] or 70,000 or 50, 30, 20 – depending on how pretty. It’s like trading jade – if jade is a good quality we make a call and trade from one broker to another. Same thing with a girl, traded from one broker to another.” – Kachin Independence Organization official who had worked in anti-trafficking. Myitkyina, January 2018.

Journey of Trafficked Women and Girls

“After a week there, I fainted. I think maybe they gave me some medicine or something. I don’t remember what happened. When I woke up, I heard the train and recognized that I was on the train. I don’t know how many days I had fainted or how long I was on the train. I saw only the Chinese letters. I could not read them. There were no Myanmar letters. I started crying. I saw a woman. Maybe she was a broker – I never met whoever it was who brought me on the train. She pinched my face. She was a Shan-Chinese woman…We stayed in a hotel. When we arrived, the Shan-Chinese woman locked the door from the outside and warned us not to run away. She said if we try to run she will cut off our hands and legs.” – Woman trafficked at 14 with her cousin after they accepted work in a clothing store near the border paying 50,000 kyat ($38) per month. Myitkyina, June 2017.

“They fed us sometimes, but not always. After three days they brought the men to the compound. There was a high fence, so no one could see what was happening inside the compound. Outside the room they showed me to 10 men. At that time it was morning, 7 a.m. They separated me from my baby and showed me to the men. The original broker had gone, and a second broker came and showed me to the men and asked me which one I liked. When I said I didn’t like any of the men, the broker slapped me. This continued for a few days and I kept refusing. Then the broker raped me. The broker got mad – to calm himself down at night he raped me. It was a violent rape. When I didn’t take off my clothes he beat me.” – Woman trafficked at 36, along with her 2-year-old son. Myitkyina, April 2016.

Life in Captivity

“[An interpreter used by my purchaser told me]: ‘You have been brought in this family for marriage…[Y]ou will not easily go home now. You have been grabbed by this family – you are to marry, and you will be here, and you will stay here.’” – Woman trafficked at 18. Myitkyina, July 2016.

“Four days later we arrived in Fugan. …Then I was locked up in the room. I was not allowed to use the phone. For a week I cried. I ate nothing. All I could do was pray. After that I realized that I had no way to choose anymore…I was there for four years.” – Woman trafficked at 18. She escaped with her daughter but was forced to leave her son behind. Myitkyina, December 2017.

“I don’t know why they beat me. One day they beat me a lot. Even the neighbor came to the house and tried to stop them. When the neighbor stopped the mother, then the son beat me again. When the neighbor stopped the son, then the mother beat me…Every time I was beaten, I did not know what to do. I was bleeding from my nose and my mouth…No matter what, they beat me.” – Woman trafficked in 2011. Myitkyina, June 2017.

“I had to have sex with the man every night. If I denied him, he would threaten me with knives. …I had to do lots of housework. I had to wash their clothes, cook for them, give a bath to his parents.” – Woman trafficked in 2013. Myitkyina, July 2017.

Demand for Babies

“I was locked in the room for one year. …Before I had a baby, the family members – especially the mother-in-law – treated me badly. Her face was furious. Sometimes they didn’t feed me, because I didn’t get pregnant as soon as possible.” – Woman trafficked at 30. Myitkyina, July 2017.

“The Chinese man told me I would need to have a baby. I said I don’t want to have a baby. He pushed back and asked me to have a baby. [He said] ‘Normally after Myanmar girls in China have a baby they go home – maybe you’re like this.’ So, I decided to have a baby with him. The Chinese man told me that after the kid was 1-year-old then I could go back.” – Woman trafficked at 20. Myitkyina, April 2016.

“I gave birth…After one year, the Chinese man gave me a choice of what to do…It took a lot of negotiation, but then I got permission to go back home. But not with the baby. The family members didn’t allow me to take care of the baby – only give birth and give the baby milk. Breastfeed the baby – then the mother-in-law took the baby and cared for the baby. They would not let me be the mother.” – Woman who returned to China after escaping because she could not bear to be away from her child. Myitkyina, April 2016.

Weak Law Enforcement

“I really feel depressed for losing my daughter, and I feel really sad. We don’t have any money, so we don’t know how to look for her.” – Mother of a trafficked woman, who was turned away by Myanmar anti-trafficking police. Myitkyina, January 2018.

“We went about five times to the [Myanmar] police. Always they say, ‘Let’s look for them. We will reply if we have found them.’…We already informed as much as we know to the police, but they say nothing, [they have] no solution.” – Mother of a trafficked woman. Myitkyina, January 2018.

“We have an anti-trafficking law [in Myanmar], but we have corruption problems. Brokers are never arrested because they can pay a bribe and always escape. Police and courts and border guards are all accepting bribes.” – Expert on trafficking in Myanmar. Yangon, January 2018.

Stigma Against Survivors; Lingering Trauma

“Some escaped from China, but do not dare to come back home because they are ashamed about the situation and what happened to them…In our Kachin society, we look down on people who live together with another person and don’t get married or have sex with another person without being married. We came back home and were looked down on by our community. Even though we got married with a Kachin guy – in the future, [by] his relatives and his family I’m sure I will be condemned and looked down upon forever.” – Woman trafficked at about age 46. Myitkyina, June 2017.

“There was no physical damage to my body. But a man I didn’t accept had sex with me and that always remains with me and it’s really hard and it always has an effect on my life.” – Woman trafficked in 2011 and held for four months. Myitkyina, January 2018.

“Most victims face terrible situations. They come back, and they are totally different from us. They are just gazing, staring…People who just came back don’t even dare to go outside and show their faces…They feel guilty for being [trafficked].” – Kachin Women’s Association worker from Laiza, Myitkyina, January 2018.

Lack of Services

“Services are totally inadequate. [Myanmar Department of Social Welfare] is nice – everyone likes them. But they just don’t have the resources to do anything. They are under-resourced to the point of dysfunction.” – Foreign diplomat based in Myanmar, Yangon, May 2016.

“They need counselling and care – but we’ve been unable to provide for such needs.” – Kachin Women’s Association worker from northern Shan State, interviewed by phone, January 2018.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission focuses on the arbitrary arrest, detention, and abuse of children; personal status laws; child marriage; children born out of wedlock; and the protection of education during armed conflict. It relates to articles 7, 8, 9, 28, 37, 38, 39 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It proposes issues and questions that Committee members may wish to raise with the government.

  1. Introduction

Palestine acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in April 2014 without reservations or declarations. The State of Palestine has ratified two of the Optional Protocols to the CRC (OP on Sale of Children and OP on Children in Armed Conflict), however they have not ratified that Optional Protocol on a communications procedure, which is an important accountability mechanism.[1]

We note that this is the Committee’s first review of the State of Palestine. With that in mind we urge the Committee to make clear that following ratification the CRC treaty applies throughout the territory of the State of Palestine. We also urge the Committee in its review to consider the current reality of governmental authority in this territory, including the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas in Gaza, and Israel as the occupying power, and apply the Convention in a way that maximizes its use to protect the rights of children throughout the territory of the State of Palestine. For the purposes of this submission in assessing the State of Palestine’s compliance with obligations under the Convention, we review the record of the PA in parts of the West Bank under its control and the de facto Hamas-led government in Gaza.
In 1995, the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PA, divided the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) into three administrative areas – A, B, and C. The PA has civil and administrative control over Area A, and civil control over Area B. Israeli military retains exclusive control over Area C, constituting about 60 percent of the West Bank. Israel applies Israeli civil law in East Jerusalem, though it remains occupied territory under international law. In 2005, Israel unilaterally disengaged from the Gaza Strip. However, Israel still controls most of Gaza’s crossings, territorial waters, and airspace, the movement of people and goods, and the population registry, among other things, and, as such, still retains effective control over Gaza.

We urge the Committee to carefully consider the severe impact of the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory since 1967, including the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and closure of the Gaza Strip since 2007. Systematic abuses associated with Israel’s 51-year occupation, fundamentally undermine the rights of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza.[2]

Laws in the West Bank and the Gaza include a combination of unified laws promulgated by the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and ratified by the president. If no unified law has been issued, existing Jordanian, Egyptian, and former British Mandate laws still apply. The Jordanian Penal Code No. (16) of 1960 (“1960 Penal Code”) and the Jordanian Personal Status Law (“JPSL”) No. (16) of 1976 are enforced in the West Bank, while the British Mandate Criminal Code Ordinance No. (74) of 1936 and the Egyptian Family Rights Law (“EFRL”) No. (303) of 1954 are enforced in Gaza. For Christians, there are a separate set of codified family laws as promulgated by the particular sect to which they belong. In addition, the Israeli army applies military law and local law that applied when it occupied the West Bank in 1967.

Since the full PLC has not convened since 2006, the Palestinian president has issued presidential decrees in accordance with article 43 of the Basic Law until the PLC reconvenes and can review all such legislation. Some presidential decrees have included amendments to Gaza’s laws, but Hamas, as the de facto authority there, has not applied them and instead issued separate decrees.

Mistreatment and Abuse of Children (articles 9, 37, and 40)

Both the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza routinely taunt, threaten, place in solitary confinement, beat, lash, and whip the feet of detainees, and torture them, as Human Rights Watch has documented.[3]

The most common tactic used by both authorities is positional abuse, or shabeh, which can amount to torture when it constitutes deliberate infliction of severe harm. While the PA and Hamas both deny using shabeh, scores of adult detainees as well as several children detainees told Human Rights Watch that officers placed them in painful stress positions for many hours at a time, using a mix of techniques that often left little or no trace on the body. In the West Bank, the Intelligence Services, Preventive Security, and Joint Security Committee often practice shabeh at their detention facilities in Jericho; in Gaza, the primary perpetrator is the Internal Security agency. In addition, Defense for Children International-Palestine documented 23 instances where PA forces used physical violence against children in the first half of 2018, from among 82 arrests of children during this period.[4] According to DCI-P, the agencies that carried out these arrests included the Intelligence Services, among others.

PA security forces operate in coordination with the Israeli army. Human Rights Watch’s research has found that many Palestinians in the West Bank have been detained at different times by both PA security forces and the Israeli army, often based on similar sets of allegations.

The Israeli army also routinely violates the rights of children in the territory of the state of Palestine. As of January 31, 2019, Israel was detaining 209 Palestinian children from Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, 46 of whom are under the age of 16, many of whom it charged with throwing stones, a crime that is punishable under Israeli military law by up to 20 years in prison.

Israel denied Palestinian children arrested and detained in the West Bank legal protections granted to Israeli children, including settlers. Israeli military courts in the West Bank in 2015 denied bail in 72 percent of cases involving Palestinian children, whereas Israeli civil courts,[5] with jurisdiction over Israeli children, including settlers, denied bail in only 17.9% of cases.[6] A 2013 UNICEF report found that almost all Palestinian children plead guilty because they would otherwise be subjected to lengthy pretrial detention, and entering a guilty plea “is the quickest way to be released.”[7] Palestinian children are not interviewed by a probation officer, who seeks alternatives to detention, as are Israeli children. Israeli law, which is applied to Israeli children, specifies a statute of limitations of one year for throwing objects toward a person or property, whereas it is two years under military law, as applied to Palestinian children. Palestinian children from the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem, are tried in Israeli juvenile military courts that, according to official figures obtained by the organization Military Court Watch, had a conviction rate of at least 95 percent in 2015, the last year for which data is available.[8]

Human Rights Watch research has found that Israeli security forces routinely interrogate children without a guardian or lawyer present, use unnecessary force against children during arrest, which often takes place in the middle of the night,[9] and physically abuse them in custody.[10] UNICEF in its 2013 report said that the "the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process.”[11] Criminal defense lawyers have told Human Rights Watch that such abuse remains endemic.

These practices appear to violate some of the core principles of the convention that provide special protections for detained children, including requirements to arrest or detain a child only as a last resort and to take precautions to ensure that children are not compelled to confess guilt.

In January 2018, lawyers for the Palestinian girl Ahed Tamimi, aged 16 years old at the time, who had been detained the prior month for slapping a soldier, raised these arguments in an attempt to secure her release on bail. The military judge denied the request, saying that he “did not think the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child should be viewed as absolute.” Tamimi agreed to a plea deal, in which she served an eight-month sentence.

While it is Israel that undertook such measures, they nonetheless trigger obligations for the State of Palestine. The CRC not only obligates Palestine to respect children’s rights itself, but Article 2 calls on it to affirmatively take steps to protect those rights from infringement by foreign states, such as Israel, when possible.

The existence of positive obligations does not depend on the exercise of effective control by the State of Palestine. The Israeli occupation does not negate Palestinian jurisdiction under Article 2, but rather focuses its scope on the positive obligations specified in Article 2. The State of Palestine must endeavour to take all appropriate measures in its power and in accordance with international law to continue to guarantee the enjoyment of rights and freedoms guaranteed by the CRC. Appropriate measures can be of diplomatic, economic or juridical nature, and can be addressed either to other States or to international organizations.

While the Israeli army often carries out arrests itself in its capacity as the occupying power, it engages in close security coordination with PA forces. That security coordination has remained largely constant irrespective of the level of abuse of Israeli forces on the ground. In 2014, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said, “security coordination is sacred and will continue whether we agree or disagree on policy.”[12] Palestinian officials have not indicated that they have leveraged their bilateral security relationship in any way to address the abuse of kids in detention.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions to the State of Palestine:

  • How many arrests of children have Palestinian security forces carried out since January 2016?
  • How many children are currently in detention?
  • How many cases have been opened into allegations of torture or other ill-treatment against children since January 2016? What were the results of such investigations? Please provide details relating to prosecutions and convictions of any officials.
  • What training and information is provided to security officers to ensure that children are not subject to torture or other ill-treatment including shabeh?
  • What is the status of the State of Palestine’s implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture?
  • In how many cases since January 2016 have Palestinian authorities handed over Palestinian children to the Israeli military and for what offences? Do Palestinian authorities provide assistance to the Israeli army that facilitates the arrest of Palestinian kids? Has the state of Palestine ever sought assurances about their treatment in detention, including access to their lawyers or families?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee that it call upon the State of Palestine to:

  • Cease the use of shabeh on children and publicly pledge that this tactic will not be used, and that any official who uses shabeh against children will be prosecuted;
  • Investigate, in a thorough, impartial and timely manner, all credible allegations of mistreatment and torture by law enforcement officials, regardless of rank;
  • Prosecute members of the security forces against whom there is evidence of criminal responsibility for torture, including command responsibility, ensuring that all perpetrators of serious human rights abuses are brought to justice regardless of rank or political affiliation
  • Empower a governmental body — consistent with the national preventive mechanism provided in the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture — staffed by independent professionals to make unannounced inspections of known and suspected detention sites, formal and informal, investigate complaints of abuse by the security services, prosecute these complaints in civilian court, and maintain a publicly available record of complaints received, investigations, and outcomes.
  • Cease handing over Palestinian children to the Israeli military as long there remains a real risk of systematic abuse of children in detention.   

Personal Status Laws & Children (articles 7, 8 and 9)

The 2004 Law on the Palestinian Child provides that the state, including the courts, should take the best interests of the child into account in all its actions.[13] But the Islamic personal status laws, currently in force in the West Bank and Gaza, do not make the best interests of the child the primary concern when determining which parent the child should live with and which guardianship rights each parent should have.

In cases of divorce, children are automatically required to live with their mothers until they reach a certain age when they are required to live with their father, unless a judge extends the residence with their mother for the benefit of the child. In the West Bank, children are required to live with their mother until the age of 9 for  boys and for girls until they are 11 years of age.[14] The child can be automatically removed from living with the mother if she remarries, but not from the father if he remarries.[15] In Gaza, girls live with their mother until they reach nine, and boys until they reach seven years.[16] These discriminatory restrictions can result in a scenario in which a child remains living with  one parent, even where their best interest may be best served by living with the other.

Under the laws in force in both the West Bank and Gaza, fathers solely retain all guardianship rights even when the child is officially living with the mother. Where the father is absent or deceased, guardianship of his children passes to the paternal grandfather, and then other male relatives in a prescribed order. In March 2018, the Council of Ministers in the West Bank issued a decision to allow women  whose children live with them to open bank accounts for them, transfer them to different schools, and apply for their passports.[17] However, as this decision did not change the rule that fathers retain guardianship rights, women whose children  live with them still face a number of obstacles. A woman is not allowed to manage her child’s inheritance if her husband dies. Instead, a male relative from the deceased husband’s family will take over the management of the child’s inheritance, which can affect child maintenance. As a guardian, a father can withdraw money from a child’s bank account opened by the mother even if the child lives with the mother, but a mother cannot do the same if the child lives with the father.[18] In the West Bank, a woman needs the permission of her child’s guardian (usually the father) if she wishes to travel abroad with her child.[19] These regulations not only discriminate against women, but risk undermining the best interest of the child.   

We encourage the Committee to pose the following question to the State of Palestine:

  • What steps are the authorities taking to amend current personal status laws to ensure that, in all actions involving children, including determining guardianship and where a child should live, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration?

 Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee that it call upon the State of Palestine to:

  • Amend current personal status laws to ensure that, in all actions involving children, including determining guardianship and where a child should live, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

Child Marriage (article 4)

The Palestinian Child Law of 2004 sets the age of majority at 18.[20] However, the Jordanian Personal Status Law No. 16 of 1976 (“JPSL”), enforced in the West Bank, provides that a girl may be married at 14.5 years old and a boy at 15.5. The Egyptian Family Rights Law No. 303 of 1954, enforced in Gaza, sets the age of marriage at 18 for a male and 17 for a female. Sharia court judges in both the West Bank and Gaza also have the right to allow the marriage of a child younger than the legal minimum if they believe it is in the best interest of the child.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), in 2017, child marriage reached 20 percent among females and one percent among males of the total married population in Palestine.[21]

Girls and women in many countries around the world have told Human Rights Watch that marrying early meant that they lost control over their lives, including the ability to decide whether and when to bear children, that it had cut short their education, and that it made them more vulnerable to domestic violence.[22]

We encourage the Committee to pose the following question to the State of Palestine:

  • What steps are the authorities taking to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 and to combat the practice of child marriage?

Human Rights Watch recommends to the Committee that it call upon the State of Palestine to:

  • Raise the minimum age of marriage to 18.

Children Born Out of Wedlock (articles 7 and 8)

Palestinian authorities require a marriage certificate for women to give birth in a hospital and to register births. In the West Bank, where pregnant woman outside of wedlock approach the hospital, the hospital will refer the case to the Ministry of Social Development.[23] If the mother states that she wants to keep the child, then the Ministry assesses her social and economic capability, and the safety of both the child and the mother, before allowing her to keep the child. If she does not meet the criteria, then the child is sent to a state-run care institution from which the child can be taken into foster care by a family.

Children born out of wedlock are provided names (first, middle, and surname) by the state but are not given a full family name. They are not allowed to take an existing family name, including their mother’s or that of their foster family, and the mother’s name and ID number is noted in the child’s registration documents. The lack of a family name exposes the children, and the mothers who keep their children, to stigma, and can limit a child’s inheritance rights. Some 27 children born out of wedlock were in the Social Development Ministry’s care in the West Bank as of April 2018, according to the Palestinian non-governmental organization Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC). In Gaza, authorities add the name mawla (meaning “in custody of”) to the child’s name before their given surname instead of “bin” (meaning ‘son of’ in Arabic). Adoption is not permitted in Palestine.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following question to the State of Palestine:

  • Are the authorities considering or are taking steps to allow women to give birth in a hospital and register their children without requiring a marriage certificate, allow them to register their children under a family name of their choice, and ensure that children do not suffer discrimination due to the parents’ marital status?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call upon the State of Palestine to:

  • Allow women to give birth in a hospital and register their children without requiring a marriage certificate, allow them to register their children under a family name of their choice, and ensure that children do not suffer discrimination due to the parents’ marital status.

The Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 28)

Human Rights Watch has documented attacks on Palestinian schools by Israeli forces and settlers, the military use of Palestinian schools by Israeli forces, and the unlawful demolition of Palestinian schools by Israeli forces.[24]

The UN Security Council reported that in Gaza during July 2014, unspecified parties used three schools operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to store weaponry: Gaza Beach Elementary Co-educational “B” School, Jabalya Elementary “C” and Ayyobiya Boys School (considered one school), and Nuseirat Preparatory Coeducational “B” School.[25] The UN found weaponry at all three schools, as well as military plans written on chalkboards and boards used as beds at the Nuseirat Preparatory Coeducational “B” School.[26] On March 11, 2015, armed Palestinians forcibly entered Balata Boys School in the West Bank, took over, and demanded that students evacuate.[27]

Palestine has endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration[28] and the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict,[29] which aim to better protect schools and universities from attack and use by any military or armed groups for military purposes, and to minimize the negative impact that armed conflict has on students’ safety and education.

We encourage the Committee to pose the following question to the State of Palestine:

  • What steps have the authorities taken to implement its commitments to protect schools from military use, and to continue access to education even during times of armed conflict?

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Congratulate the State of Palestine for endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, and request details on steps taken to implement its commitments to protect schools from military use, and to continue access to education even during times of armed conflict.

[1] Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, adopted May 25, 2000, G.A. Resolution 54/263, Annex I, 54 U.N. GAOR Supp. (no.49) at 7, U.N. Doc. A/54/49, vol. III (2000), entered into force February 12, 2002. Palestine ratified on April 7, 2014.

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, adopted May 25, 2000, G.A. Resolution A/RES/54/263, entered into force on 18 January 2002. Palestine ratified on December 29, 2017.

[2] Human Rights Watch, “Human Rights Watch Submission to the CEDAW Committee of Israel’s Periodic Report 68th Session,” October 2017,; UN Women, Technical Report, “International Accountability Mechanisms: Palestinian Women Living Under Occupation,” 2016, (accessed June 5, 2018).

[3] Human Rights Watch, Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent: Arbitrary Arrest & Torture Under the Palestinian Authority & Hamas, October 23, 2018,

[4] “Palestinian forces detained 22 children using improper procedures in first half of 2018,” DCI Palestine, November 14, 2018,

[5] “Military Authority Releases Arrest Data For 2015,” Military Court Watch, April 27, 2017,

[6] Military Court Watch input on OHCHR Report on protecting the rights of the child in humanitarian situations, Military Court Watch, September 7, 2017,

[7] “Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations,” UNICEF, February 2013,

[8]  “Military Authority Releases Arrest Data For 2015,” Military Court Watch, April 27, 2017,

[9] “Comparative graph - Issues of concern,” Military Court Watch, March 13, 2019,

[10] “Palestine: Israeli Police Abusing Detained Children,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 11, 2016,

[11] “Children in Israeli Military Detention,” UNICEF,

[12] عباس: التنسيق الأمني مقدس وسيستمر سواء إختلفنا في السياسة أو إتفقنا, video clip, YouTube, (accessed March 14, 2019).

[13] Palestinian Child Law No. (7) of 2004, art. 4, (accessed June 5, 2018).

[14] Jordanian Personal Status Law No. (16) of 1976, art. 161.

[15]  Jordanian Personal Status Law No. (16) of 1976, art. 156.

[16] Article 118, Egyptian Family Rights Law (“EFRL”) No. (303) of 1954

[17] “Video: Hamdallah announces a package of measure for women,” Maan News Agency, March 5, 2018, (accessed June 5, 2018).

[18]  Human Rights Watch interview with Sabah Salameh, coordinator of the Muntada Forum to Combat Violence against Women—representing a coalition of 17 non-governmental organizations, Ramallah, April 11, 2018. 

[19] Jordanian Personal Status Law No. (16) of 1976, art. 166.

[20] Palestinian Child Law No. (7) of 2004, art. 1.

[21] “H.E. Ms. Awad, Highlights the Situation of the Palestinian Women on the Eve of the International Women's Day,” Palestinian Central Bureau Statistics, March 8, 2019,

[23] Cabinet Decision No. 10 of 2015 on Foster Family Procedures.

[24] Submission by Human Rights Watch to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Israel, 64th pre-sessional, January 28, 2019, available at; Human Rights Watch, World Report 2017, “Israel/Palestine,” (2017); “Israel: Army Demolishing West Bank Schools,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 25, 2018; “Israel: In-Depth Look at Gaza School Attacks: 45 People, Including 17 Children, Killed in 3 Attacks,” September 11, 2014,; Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, “Lessons in War 2015: Military Use of Schools and Universities during Armed Conflict,” May 2015, p. 23.

[25] UN Security Council, “Letter dated 27 April 2015,” S/2015/286, Annex, paras.1h,1j, 60.

[26] UN Security Council, “Letter dated 27 April 2015,” S/2015/286, Annex, paras. 49-82.

[27] Unicef, “Annual CAAC Bulletin – First Quarter of 2015,” p. 4; see also Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, “Israel/Palestine” in “Education Under Attack: 2018.”

[28] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, (accessed November 6, 2018).

[29] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, (accessed November 6, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza takes part in a ceremony in Bujumbura. Nkurunziza’s controversial third term won in 2015 roiled the country throughout 2016, with numerous cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture committed by security forces.  

© 2016 Evrard Ngendakumana/Reuters

While the crackdown continues in Burundi against anyone who dares challenge President Pierre Nkurunziza, authorities showed how thin-skinned they really are when arresting seven schoolchildren last week. The children stood accused of having scribbled on the president’s photo in their school books.

Upon arrest, the children were brought before the public prosecutor in Kirundo province. A 13-year-old, being below the age of criminal responsibility, was released. Six girls, however, were taken to the local police station jail. Three were later released, but the three others, all teenagers under the age of 18, remained in jail over the weekend. They were charged on Monday with insulting the head of state, and could spend up to five years in prison if found guilty.

The girls, one father said on Saturday, are too scared to eat.

This is not the first-time school administrators and authorities have cracked down on children’s doodling. In 2016, Burundian intelligence agents arrested eight secondary school students and also accused them of insulting the head of state for drawing and writing phrases like “Get out” or “No to the 3rd term” on a picture of Nkurunziza in a textbook. The same year, hundreds of children were expelled from several schools for scribbling on the president’s face in textbooks.

With so many real crimes being committed in Burundi, it’s tragic that children are the ones being prosecuted for harmless scribbles.

Since April 2015, the country has been in the throes of a political and human rights crisis triggered by Nkurunziza’s controversial decision to stand for a third term. Since then, security services and the Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth league, have killed, arbitrarily arrested, abducted, beaten, raped, and intimidated real and perceived political opponents with impunity.

Authorities should focus on holding perpetrators of serious rights violations to account instead of jailing schoolchildren for doodles.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Over the weekend, Maoist insurgents torched a tent and a generator at Sondaha primary school in India’s Bihar state, where police were planning to stay during the upcoming national elections, the United News of India reported.

Security forces line their weapons against the school wall at Dwarika Middle School on June 7, 2009.

© 2009 Bede Sheppard/Human Rights Watch

It isn’t the first time. The Maoists have repeatedly committed violence against schools in the run-up to elections in India. They attacked at least two schools before national elections in 2014, and in 2009, carried out at least 14 attacks on schools in Jharkhand and Bihar states.

Deliberate attacks on schools that are not being used for military purposes can be war crimes under international humanitarian law.

But the police should not have been using the school in the first place. Though government security forces have been deployed inside schools for security before elections in the past, India’s Supreme Court has repeatedly ordered the government to ensure school buildings are not occupied by security forces for any purpose.

There has also been increasing international recognition that parties should refrain from using schools for military purposes. In 2014, the United Nations Security Council stated that the use of schools for military purposes, such as for barracks or bases by security forces, endangers children’s and teachers’ safety as well as children’s education. The Security Council also called for enhanced international monitoring and reporting of such use of schools. In 2015, it encouraged all countries “to take concrete measures to deter such use of schools by armed forces and armed groups.

Guidance on how countries can better protect schools is included in the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration, developed under the leadership of the governments of Norway and Argentina. To date, 84 countries have endorsed the declaration. Disappointingly, India is not among them. But there is time for that to change before the declaration’s supporting countries meet at the Third International Safe Schools Conference in May, to discuss what more can be done to keep students, teachers, and schools safe even during times of armed conflict.

Bad history shouldn’t repeat itself every election. Maoist insurgents and government security forces in India should respect children’s safety and right to education by keeping schools off-limits – not only in the weeks before national elections – but at all times.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Today, hundreds of thousands of children marched in dozens of countries around the world to send a clear, urgent message: governments should do more to tackle climate change now – not just with words and pledges, but with concrete steps.

A young protester marches in Berlin, Germany, to demand government action on climate change, March 15, 2019.

© 2019 Juliane Kippenberg/Human Rights Watch

What started with the protest of a single Swedish girl – then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg – has now grown into a global youth movement and perhaps the biggest “climate strike” in history.

At the Berlin march today, an estimated 20,000 children chanted and held up posters. Their signs urged “Stop coal” or simply “Act Now!” One poster read: “Fridays no school!? Climate change is much worse.”

I joined the march with my 11-year-old son and his friend and found myself in the midst of thousands of students, along with a few other supportive adults. The sight of these kids and their activism fills me with hope.

Berlin is just one of more than 2,000 locations in 125 countries where children have decided to skip school and join the climate strikes. Students are standing up for climate action in Albania, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, the United States, and many other countries.

Let’s not underestimate these young activists. Student protests have helped shape history – think of youth protests in Apartheid South Africa or the Arab Spring. The children protesting today are making great use of their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly, and they are raising awareness of the existential threat posed by climate change.

But the most important question to them is: Will they be remembered as the youth movement that made world leaders finally take action on climate change?

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Why did you focus on Kazakhstan for this report?

The Kazakh government has committed to improving education opportunities for children with disabilities, but so far we haven’t seen that commitment lead to meaningful change. We wanted to better understand why children with disabilities aren’t accessing the same education opportunities as their peers, to be able to provide concrete recommendations on ways the government can ensure all kids have the access to the inclusive education they deserve.

What commitments has the government made already?

Kazakhstan has pledged to make 70 percent of schools inclusive by 2019. It also ratified the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2015. It’s an international treaty that requires Kazakhstan to change its own laws and practices to make sure the rights of people with disabilities are respected. The government has also taken some steps domestically to address the issue, for example, by increasing the number of special education teachers in some mainstream schools.


© 2019 Human Rights Watch

Why is inclusion important for children?

Inclusion in school is the first step to inclusion in society and to combatting discrimination. We talked to several parents whose children are in inclusive education, and all of them were very positive about their children learning and playing with other children, with and without disabilities. They talked about better communication skills and how children learn by watching each other. Even with the problems that exist, parents felt that being in an inclusive environment was having a positive impact on their children, and they were excited about that.

That all sounds great, so what are the problems?

For a start, not very many kids with disabilities are actually enrolled in mainstream inclusive schools.

A key barrier to inclusive education is a body of medical workers and education specialists, called Psychological-Medical-Pedagogical Consultations (PMPK), which I know is kind of a mouthful. The PMPK assesses kids with disabilities and makes recommendations about what kind of education they should get. Our research found that many children are still not able to access quality, inclusive education in mainstream schools, because PMPKs usually recommended home education or education in segregated schools for kids with disabilities.

Kids who are able to enroll in mainstream schools face other challenges, including physical accessibility and a lack of qualified staff. It’s not enough for Kazakh authorities to designate a school as “inclusive.” Children need to be able to access the individual supports they need to participate and succeed in school.

Tell me more about the PMPK?

Our concern is that these commissions are determining whether children have access to schools through a medical lens, rather than focusing on what supports each individual child would need to succeed in a mainstream school environment. The commission’s default position should be that kids belong in school. Sadly, and wrongly, it’s not. Instead, the commission currently serves as a gatekeeper, deciding whether a child can go to school in the first place, not what is needed to support them so they can go to school. That’s just not right.

The authorities should take a holistic approach when assessing a child’s abilities, and invite the perspectives of people who know the child well to determine what accommodations a child needs in order to go to school and get an education on an equal basis with others.

What are the assessments like?

Many parents described assessments as rushed, and in some cases superficial or even hostile. For example, experts only asked the child or parent a couple of questions or tried to see if children could do one simple task before making a determination. In an extreme case, one child was assessed for only about five minutes.  

We also heard that parents had to queue – sometimes for hours at a time – before they were seen by the commission, so there was chaos in the queue. The parents didn’t really have any way to engage their children, so by the time they were actually invited in to see the commission, the kids were agitated or tired. Their parents were concerned that affected the assessment.

There are other issues as well. There was a woman called Irina whose 10-year-old son Andrey has autism. He spent the first grade being taught at home. Irina told me ‘no one [at the PMPK] told us anything about inclusive education. [Had we known] we would have requested inclusive education for him, of course.’ Andrey is in mainstream school now, but it wasn’t even raised as an option in his first assessment.

Another mother told us that assessors would say insulting things like “He can’t do anything” in front of the children.

There is tacit acknowledgement that there are problems with the PMPKs, and the government is currently expanding the network of PMPKs. But that doesn’t get at the fundamental problem, which is that the PMPK takes a medicalized approach to assessing children with disabilities, and it serves as a barrier for accessing inclusive education.

What’s the underlying cause of these issues?

A comment that we’ve heard from a number of experts is that authorities don’t seem to understand what it means to access an inclusive education. That’s something I hope this report will help articulate, showing how the government can provide reasonable accommodations for children to be included in their communities, and in their neighborhood schools, to have the best prospects for their future.

There’s another problem in that historically in Kazakhstan, as part of the Soviet Union, children with disabilities were almost entirely hidden away from society. Kazakhstan is moving away from that attitude, which is incredibly important. But there’s still broad stigma.

What is being done to create change?

Parents are advocating to get the best for their children, including by fighting to get their kids into mainstream schools. It was really a privilege to meet parents all over the country who had organized groups to support their children, sometimes by setting up resource centers offering a range of services. A number of the parents we interviewed also spoke about how it was difficult to get basic information about their child’s disability from medical workers, and how they turned to other parents for information.

Did anyone you meet stand out to you?

There was one young man we interviewed who made a lasting impression. “Madiyar” was 23 when we talked to him. Madiyar has cerebral palsy and was home educated, which is not unusual for children with cerebral palsy in Kazakhstan. He didn’t come from economic privilege, but had parents and older siblings who made sure to include him in routine activities, like when they went out, for example. After he finished school, he decided he wanted to attend university, just like his siblings had. So, he did.

A special education teacher and a child with autism match squares at Balama Center, an organization that offers support to children with autism in Almaty, Kazakhstan. 

© 2018 Timur Karpov

In a place like Kazakhstan, where it’s rare to see people with disabilities on the street, this young man, who went to university and now has a job, is battling the stigma people with disabilities face just by living his life.

By contrast, I met another young man with cerebral palsy who was 28 when we interviewed him. He was home educated, and it was just him and his mum. Unlike Madiyar, he is unable to walk on his own. He hasn’t gone outside in 18 years. Not only was he denied an education in his community, he was – and remains – isolated from society.

It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that people with disabilities don’t face that kind of isolation, but instead get the support they need to be in society equally with others.

What do you hope to achieve with this report?

I’m hoping the government will see our report as a resource to help them build on some of the initial progress that’s been made. I hope they take seriously the recommendations we’ve put forward, and make sure more children in Kazakhstan actually get a quality, inclusive education.

And what do you hope for the children you met along the way?

What I want for them is what I want for all children. And it’s not just what I want, it is the rights to which they are entitled! To get a quality education, be part of their communities, not to face discrimination or stigma, to know that their place is in society and that there’s a system in place that supports them.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


Video: Education Barriers for Children with Disabilities in Kazakhstan

Although the Kazakh government has taken some important steps to better protect the rights of children with disabilities, much more needs to be done to ensure equal access to education for all children.

(Almaty) – A majority of children with disabilities in Kazakhstan are not getting a quality, inclusive education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Although the Kazakh government has taken some important steps to better protect the rights of children with disabilities, much more needs to be done to ensure equal access to education for all children.

The 72-page report, “‘On the Margins’: Education for Children with Disabilities in Kazakhstan” shows that Kazakhstan’s education system segregates and isolates children with disabilities. Even for children who can access schools in their communities, most are taught in separate classrooms with other children with disabilities. Thousands are in special schools for children with disabilities, often far from their homes. Others are educated at home, with a teacher visiting for a few hours per week at best. Children in closed psychiatric institutions receive very little or no education.

“Children with disabilities have a right to a quality, inclusive education, with reasonable support to facilitate their learning, on an equal basis with others,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Yet in Kazakhstan many children with disabilities remain on the margins of the education system, and of society as a whole.”

A special education teacher and a child with autism match squares at Balama Center, an organization that offers support to children with autism in Almaty, Kazakhstan. 

© 2018 Timur Karpov

Human Rights Watch interviewed over 150 people for the report between September 2017 and December 2018. They included 49 children and young people with physical and intellectual disabilities, dozens of parents, and disability rights activists, human rights defenders, and international organizations. Human Rights Watch also met or corresponded with government officials and reviewed relevant national and international legislation.

A major barrier to inclusive education is the bodies known as Psychological-Medical-Pedagogical Consultations (PMPK), made up of doctors and education specialists. These bodies conduct a short evaluation of a child with a disability, and then issue a decision about what kind of school the child can attend. Although technically these bodies only make a recommendation about the child’s education path, parents told Human Rights Watch that their permission is required for enrollment in school. Some parents described the assessments of their children as rushed, hostile, and superficial.

Children who were interviewed described the isolation they experienced when they could not go to school. Misha, 13, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, is getting his education at home in a village outside of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. He said he dreams of going to school with other children: “I’d want to go to school, of course! It’s fun there. It’s way more interesting at school – you get to go to all the classes. There are a lot of kids! It’s better to study at school.”

In 2015, Kazakhstan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which guarantees the right to inclusive, quality education. This entails ensuring that children with and without disabilities learn together in mainstream classes in an inclusive environment, with reasonable accommodations. This can include braille textbooks, audio, video, and easy-to-read learning materials; instruction in sign language for children with hearing disabilities; and staff to assist children with self-care, behavior, or other support needed in the classroom.

The Kazakh government has pledged to make 70 percent of mainstream schools inclusive by 2019. In December 2018, Human Rights Watch visited several of these schools in Almaty.

Even in so-called inclusive schools, children with disabilities can face obstacles such as lack of physical accessibility, lack of accessible learning materials, and a lack of support staff. Kazakhstan’s inclusive schools currently only educate children with disabilities in lower grades, Human Rights Watch found.

Children who study in mainstream schools and their families described the importance of inclusive education to them. Malika’s nine-year-old son, Ilya, with Down’s syndrome “likes to study. He sees how others do something, and he does the same… He’s become more communicative because he’s in an environment where he hears speech. He’s learning social skills by imitating [others].”

The Kazakh government should expand its efforts to guarantee quality, inclusive education for children in Kazakhstan. As part of this effort, it should ensure that consultation bodies’ conclusions are not a prerequisite for enrollment in mainstream schools. Instead, the government, in consultation with people with disabilities, should reform the system to take in views and assessments from teachers, parents, and others, as well as doctors, to determine the support a child may need to study in a mainstream classroom.

“The Kazakh government should make sure it is including children with disabilities in mainstream schools and giving them the tools they need to succeed on an equal basis with other children,” Rittmann said. “The government can start by transforming the consultation body system so that it helps children to attend mainstream schools rather than blocking them.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Most children with disabilities in Kazakhstan are not getting a quality, inclusive education. Although the Kazakh government has taken some important steps to better protect the rights of children with disabilities, much more needs to be done to ensure equal access to education for all children.

Kazakhstan’s education system segregates and isolates children with disabilities. Even for children who can access schools in their communities, most are taught in separate classrooms with other children with disabilities. Thousands are in special schools for children with disabilities, often far from their homes. Others are educated at home, with a teacher visiting for a few hours per week at best. Children in closed psychiatric institutions receive very little or no education.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In this March 2, 2017, file photo, Tucker Carlson, host of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio in New York.

© 2017 AP Photo/Richard Drew, File

Newly uncovered audio has US political media personality Tucker Carlson defending a man who received a felony conviction for arranging child marriages in the US. The audio was recorded more than a decade ago, during appearances by Carlson on the Bubba the Love Sponge radio show. In subsequent audio recordings, Carlson uses racist and homophobic slurs.

Carlson is heard on the audio backing the accused, saying: “He’s in prison because he is weird and unpopular and he has a different lifestyle that other people find creepy.” He then went on to say that rape of a child within the context of marriage is somehow different from other types of rape. “The rapist, in this case, has made a lifelong commitment to live and take care of this person. So it is a little different,” he says. In the audio, Carlson also says that arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old and a 27-year-old isn’t the same as pulling a stranger off the street and raping her.


Ending Child Marriage

What does child marriage mean for girls’ lives? And why does child marriage persist?

Carlson isn’t backing down from his comments. Instead, he says he was caught “saying something naughty on a radio show more than a decade ago.” He then challenges “[a]nyone who disagrees with [his] views” to come on to his show and explain why.

Here’s why: Human Rights Watch has documented the devastating impact child marriage has on girls around the world. Compared to women who marry after the age of 18, married girls are more likely to drop out of school, live in poverty, and be victims of domestic violence. Child marriage also often results in serious health risks due to early pregnancy, which threaten the lives of both girls and their babies.

Each year around the world, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18, and the US is no exception. With child marriage comes lifelong harmful effects for girls.

Carlson’s comments are deeply troubling. They make light of a practice that threatens the rights and health of girls.

At a time when there is growing recognition that child marriage is a severe human rights violation, Carlson’s comments are indefensible.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to the review of Senegal under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. It focuses on the right to education, exploitation and abuse of talibé children and the protection of students, teachers, and schools in situations of armed conflict.

Barriers to the Right to Primary and Secondary Education (article 11 and 27)

Human Rights Watch welcomes the government of Senegal’s commitment to expand provision of primary and secondary education to more young people, including by allocating over 20 percent of its national budget to education. However, Human Rights Watch’s 2018 research on barriers to secondary education shows that the government has made inadequate progress in the retention of girls in school, and that it does not provide free basic education.

According to Senegal’s Education Law, primary and lower-secondary education is free and compulsory for all girls and boys age 6 to 16. However, in practice, secondary school students may be required to pay close to 40,000 FCFA (US$75) in tuition fees, furniture costs and extra tuition for afternoon classes, forcing many children to drop out.[1] Our findings also show that alongside school fees and indirect costs, gender discrimination contributes to low rates of retention and completion of compulsory lower secondary education, particularly in rural areas. In some communities, parents prioritize boys’ education over girls’ education.[2]

Pregnancy as a Barrier to Education

Senegal has moved from previous restrictive and punitive policies to providing a pathway for pregnant girls to continue their education. In 2007, the government adopted a “re-entry” policy for young mothers, overturning its previous position to expel pregnant girls from school. The policy stipulates that in order to return to school, girls must show a medical certificate that shows they are ready to return to school.[3]

Despite this positive accommodation however, many girls do not return to school as they lack financial and family support.[4] According to the joint UNFPA-GEEP study, more than 54 percent of young mothers dropped out of school between 2011 and 2014 and only fifteen percent of young mothers resumed their education in that same period.[5]

Overall, teenage pregnancy rates remain very high across the country. Girls have little access to sexual and reproductive health services, including contraceptives, and teenage pregnancy frequently ends a girl’s schooling. One in ten girls and one in twenty boys age 15-24 had their first sexual encounter before they were 15 years old.[6] Further, eight percent of girls aged 15 to 19 have already given birth.[7]

In order to curb teenage pregnancy rates and improve the retention of girls in secondary schools the government needs to do more to ensure students have access to adequate comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education. The government has been needlessly slow to adopt a national comprehensive sexual and reproductive health curriculum. At time of writing, it was reluctant to include content on sexuality in the curriculum due to concerns that teaching sexuality contradicts Senegal’s cultural and moral values, as well as due to pressure from religious groups.[8]

School-Related Sexual and Gender Based Exploitation and Violence

Human Rights Watch research conducted in 2018 found that many girls are exposed to sexual exploitation, harassment, and abuse by teachers and school staff. Human Rights Watch found that some teachers abuse their position of authority by sexually harassing girls and engaging in sexual relations with them, many of whom are under 18. Teachers have lured girls with the promise of money, good grades, food, or items such as mobile phones and new clothes. Female students—and to a certain extent, teachers and school officials—have characterized this as “relationships” between teachers and students. Human Rights Watch believes that this type of characterization undermines the gravity of the abuse, leads to underreporting of the problem, and blurs the perpetrators’ and victims’ perception of the severity of these abuses.

Human Rights Watch found that different forms of sexual exploitation and harassment remain pervasive in secondary schools in Senegal.[9] Students are particularly vulnerable to these abuses on the way to school, around teachers’ homes, as well as during students’ evening gatherings, which are sometimes organized on school premises.

When girls have turned down teachers’ proposals, they have sometimes found that the teachers punished them for rejecting their advances by awarding them lower grades than they deserved, ignoring and not letting them participate in class discussions or exercises. In some of the areas where Human Rights Watch conducted research, the low retention rate of girls in secondary schools appears to be closely linked to fear that girls will be exposed to sexual harassment and gender-based violence in school, or that girls will be at high risk of pregnancy because of the school environment.[10]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Senegal to:

·         Adopt a policy to make secondary education fully free of charge;

·         Officially and in practice remove school fees and indirect costs in secondary education;

·         Adopt a national education policy against sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse, that includes: guidance on what constitutes or could lead up to these abuses, procedures to be adopted when cases are reported to school staff, clear school-based enforcement mechanisms and sanctions, and referrals to police;

·         Ensure that legislation relating to school-related sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse, are rigorously enforced, and that perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice and punished with sanctions that are commensurate to their crimes;

·         Explicitly prohibit all forms of sexual and gender-based violence against girls and young women in and around educational institutions;

·         Ensure all schools have functioning confidential and independent reporting mechanisms, connected to child protection committees;

·         Adopt a strong curriculum on sexual and reproductive health and rights which complies with international standards, is mandatory, age-appropriate, and scientifically accurate; including information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, responsible sexual behavior, prevention of early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; and

·         Amend and/or adopt laws to strengthen protection for children affected by abuse.

Abuse and Exploitation Against Talibé Children (article 15 and 16 )

Over 120,000 talibés, children attending residential Quranic schools (daaras) in Senegal, are forced to beg for food or money by their Quranic teachers (marabouts), who serve as their de facto guardians. Thousands of these children live in conditions akin to slavery, forced to endure often extreme forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Abuses against these children include severe beatings, chaining, imprisonment, and sexual abuse, and neglect results in deprivation of their rights to basic health care and education. Many daaras are housed in decrepit or unfinished buildings without water, sanitation, electricity or security, exposing the children to health and safety risks. 

The government has recently taken steps related to the rights of talibé children. From 2016 to 2017, a government program resulted in the removal of more than 1,500 children from the streets, and 300 more were removed from the streets in 2018. In November 2017, Senegalese police, together with Interpol, picked up over 54 children including 47 talibés from the streets, arresting five Quranic teachers for child trafficking and exploitation.[11]

Despite these important steps, Human Rights Watch is concerned that talibé children still face human rights violations. In July 2017, Human Rights Watch found that more than 1000 children taken from the streets as part of the 2016-2017 government program were later returned to the same Quranic teachers who had forced them to beg.[12] In 2017 and 2018, Human Rights Watch documented several cases of talibé deaths to abuse or neglect, and dozens of other cases of beatings for failing to bring their marabout the required sum of money, chaining and imprisonment for attempting to run away, and sexual abuse.

Despite the government’s program to remove the children from the streets, there was no noticable reduction in the number of talibés begging in the streets of Senegal’s major cities during 2018, with the exception of two Dakar municipalities where mayors issued decrees banning begging and took steps to close several daaras that did not comply.  

Senegal has strong domestic laws against child abuse, trafficking and exploitation, and forced child begging, and arrests and prosecutions of Quranic teachers for such abuses have increased slightly in recent years. Nevertheless, the police often still failed to investigate cases of forced begging and exploitation, social workers failed to report many such cases, and charges against Quranic teachers continued to be dropped or sentences reduced by the judiciary in 2017 and 2018. In its second phase in 2018, the program to “remove children from the streets” in Dakar again failed to ensure justice against the Quranic teachers responsible for forcing the children to beg.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Senegal to:

·         Increase enforcement of current domestic laws that criminalize child trafficking, forced begging and abuse, and investigate and hold accountable Quranic teachers who violate these laws;

·         Pass the draft law establishing legal status and regulations for daaras (“projet de loi portant statut des daaras”), which has been approved by the Council of Ministers but awaits a vote before the National Assembly;

·         Increase funding and support to structures that can provide legal assistance to separated children such as talibés who are victims of abuse or exploitation;

·         Formally involve relevant sectors of the Ministry of Justice, including its AEMO social services agency, in the program to remove children from the streets (retrait des enfants de la rue) with a view to ensuring investigations and prosecutions of adults, including Quranic teachers, forcing children to beg for profit or committing other abuses.

·         Mandate local inspections of existing daaras, with a view to ensuring that any failing to meet appropriate health and safety standards or exploiting children through forced begging are shut down;

Dedicate funding to building the capacity of existing children’s shelters and care centers, as well as to installing new shelters or care systems in regions that lack facilities to care for abused or separated children.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (article 22)

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict;[13] the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[14] As of March 2019, 84  countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. Senegal has yet to endorse this important declaration.

As of November 2018, Senegal was contributing 1,198 troops and 37 staff officers to UN peacekeeping operations around the world. Such troops are required to comply with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations “UN Infantry Battalion Manual” (2012), which includes the provision that “schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”[15]

Moreover, the 2017 Child Protection Policy of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support, and Department of Political Affairs notes:

United Nations peace operations should refrain from all actions that impede children's access to education, including the use of school premises. This applies particularly to uniformed personnel. Furthermore … United Nations peace operations personnel shall at no time and for no amount of time use schools for military purposes.[16]

Senegal’s peacekeeping troops are deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Mali — all countries where attacks on students and schools, and the military use of schools has been documented as a problem.[17]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Senegal:

·         Are protections for schools from military use included in the pre-deployment training provided to Senegalese troops participating in peacekeeping missions?

·         Do any Senegalese laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?

Human Rights Watch recommends to the Committee that it call upon the government of Senegal to:

·         Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, and take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools, including by bringing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic military policy and operational frameworks.




[1] “It’s not Normal: Sexual Exploitation, Harassment and Abuse in Secondary Schools in Senegal,” Human Rights Watch, October 18, 2018,

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Leave No Girl Behind in Africa: Discrimination in Education against Pregnant Girls and Adolescent Mothers,” Human Rights Watch, June 14, 2018,

[4] “It’s not Normal: Sexual Exploitation, Harassment and Abuse in Secondary Schools in Senegal,” Human Rights Watch, October 18, 2018,

[5] UN Population Fund and Groupe pour l’Etude et l’Enseignement de la Population, “Sénégal : Etude sur les grossesses précoces en milieu scolaire,” p. 64.

[6] République du Sénégal, Ministère de la Santé et de l’Action Sociale, “Plan Stratégique de Santé Sexuelle et de la Reproduction des Adolescents/Jeunes au Sénégal [2014-2018],” September 2014,

(accessed December 19, 2018), p. 17.

[7] UN Population Fund, “World Population Dashboard – Senegal,” undated,

(accessed December 19, 2018).

[8] “It’s not Normal: Sexual Exploitation, Harassment and Abuse in Secondary Schools in Senegal,” Human Rights Watch, October 18, 2018,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Lauren Seibert (Human Rights Watch), “A Move Toward Justice for Senegal’s Exploited Talibé Children,” commentary, All Africa, December 6, 2017,

[12] Human Rights Watch, “I Still See the Talibés Begging”: Government Program to Protect Talibé Children in Senegal Fall Short, July 11, 2017,, p.19.; Human Rights Watch interview with government officials, May and June 2017.

[13] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, (accessed November 6, 2018).

[14] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, (accessed November 6, 2018).

[15] United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual, 2012, section 2.13, “Schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”

[16] UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support and Department of Political Affairs, “Child Protection in UN Peace Operations (Policy),” June 2017.

[17] Education Under Attack: 2018, The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2018,

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am